How to Choose and Store Your Summer Tomatoes

All summer long, we gorge on tomatoes. We eat them raw, with olive oil and salt, in thick slices on burgers, baked in a crostata, chopped and seasoned in a panzanella, and on top of any salad. We feast our eyes and our stomachs on yellow cherry tomatoes, giant multi-colored Mr. Stripeys, and heirloom Jersey tomatoes. Many farms now grow many heirloom varieties of tomatoes, which come from older seeds and over have more flavor than the newer brands. Those are the kind we look for to send to you.

While it’s hard to go wrong with summer tomatoes, here’s your summer guide to help ensure that your tomato consumption is very, very right.

What’s your favorite way to eat summer tomatoes? Tell us in the comments!

The Look

Tomatoes come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. The most traditional look is round, red, and medium-sized. But don’t shy away from trying tomatoes that are less apparently perfect. Some heirloom strains look positively ugly–brown-ish, cracked, and uneven. Yet those are often the tastiest types, and you don’t want to miss out. Whether yellow, red, orange, or purple, a tomato’s skin should always lie firm on the surface, with no mushy parts. Beyond that, stay open-minded when assessing the aesthetics of a tomato and make it a point to sample any fine- or ugly-looking specimen you see.

The Scent

While the look of tomatoes has a huge range, all excellent tomatoes have one characteristic in common: they smell great. The scent of a perfectly ripe tomato will make you think of summer: a combination of grass, dirt, sunshine, and fruit. If you don’t get a summery whiff from your tomato, especially right around the stem, the flavor may be lacking too. Head to the next farmstand.


Keep your tomatoes on the counter in a cool, shaded spot. Never put tomatoes in the refrigerator. We’re serious! Never. When tomatoes go in the fridge, their flesh chills and becomes unappealingly mealy. At the same time, their flavor vanishes. This is not good. You’ll need a whole lot of salt to spruce up a refrigerated tomato. Don’t make the sacrifice. The optimal temperature for tomato storage is 60 to 65°F. Since that range can be hard to find in the summer time, we recommend you look for the coolest spot in your kitchen apart from the fridge and store the tomatoes there. Then, plan to eat them within two days, while they’re fresh.


Recipes for tomatoes abound! We’ve already shared tomato jam, panzanella, tabbouleh salad, crostata, and salmon burgers, We’ll be sending out many more wonderful tomato recipes all summer long. If your tomato craving can’t wait for your next Blue Apron box, here’s what we recommend: take a great tomato, slice it, sprinkle on salt, pepper, and olive oil and eat with a slice of fresh mozzarella. There is hardly anything better.

How to Tell If An Avocado Is Ripe

HERE’S HOW is a series where we share the best useful tips from our cooking adventures. We’ll answer questions before you have them and illuminate food mysteries with a blend of science and legend. Today, we’re talking avocados–how to know when they’re perfectly ripe.

In this week’s vegetarian box, we adorn Grilled Zucchini Tacos with delicious homemade guacamole. If you’ve ever dipped a corn chip into a bowl of fresh guacamole, you know why the dip is so good: it contains avocados, the most satisfying vegetable we know. (It is, however, really a fruit.)

When we send out avocados for Avocado Tartines or Cucumber-Avocado Maki, we make a point to order them “sushi ripe” from our purveyors. That means the avocados arrive ready to eat, soft but not too soft, and exquisitely creamy. Ripe avocados should be stored on the counter and used within two days.

Here’s how to investigate any avocado and tell when it is perfectly ripe. Our goal? That you’ll never try to cut into a hard, under-ripe avocado again.

The Look

You can get your first gauge on the ripeness of an avocado just by looking at it. Here’s how: ripe avocados tend to be darker in color than their lesser-ripe cousins. Hass avocados, the most common avocado at markets in most parts of the United States, have a bumpy dark green skin when under-ripe. As soon as they ripen, that green darkens and becomes almost purple. If you’re looking at a big bin of avocados, start picking up the darkest ones first, to check if they feel ripe. Read on to see how to evaluate on texture.

The Feel

Ripe avocados will feel basically firm to the touch. Pick one up and press lightly on the surface to see if the avocado flesh yields. You should be able to press down and sense a little bit of give.  But not too much! If the avocado feels soft to the point of mushy, it’s over-ripe. Throw it back. If there’s no yield, as in the avocado feels like a rock, skip that one too, or place it on the counter to ripen, and keep reading.

The Prep

You can use ripe avocados in several different ways: sliced on a sandwich, cubed in a salad, or mashed into guacamole. To prep, use a chef’s knife to cut through the stem of the avocado and all around it lengthwise. You won’t be able to cut all the way through because of the pit. Unscrew the avocado to separate the halves. Use a big spoon to scoop out the flesh. Then carefully slice it for Beet-Avocado Salad or Fish Tacos, cube it for topping chili,  or simply mash the avocado in a bowl with a fork or potato masher. A ripe avocado will smush into a guacamole-like texture easily, so if you want intact slices, be gentle.


If you accidentally purchase an avocado from your market that isn’t ripe, there are a few tricks to get the vegetable soft and creamy. The first is simply to wait. Push your avocado dinner to later in the week. That may sound low-tech, but this can help with planning, especially if you do all your shopping on Sundays. If you want the avocado ripe sooner, legend has it that storing in a paper bag with a banana will quicken the process!

On the opposite end, if you’re worried about the avocado becoming too ripe, store it in the refrigerator once it’s ripe to freeze the ripening process and preserve it at the perfect ripeness.

The Zing of Zest

Zesty means fresh, invigorating, or stimulating. In cooking, one way to brighten food is to put actual citrus zest into your ricotta filling or chicken marinade. With that in mind, oranges, lemons, limes, and even grapefruits offer two distinct ways to flavor your food. There’s the juice, which we use all the time in salad dressings or to finish off fish dishes with a hit of acid. Then there’s the zest, which packs tons of citrus flavor with less sharpness.

Restaurants use zest as an essential ingredient to perk up flavors in everyday dishes, and we’ve brought that professional technique to you a few of our recipes, like Eggplant Rollatini and Orange Chicken Thighs with Cherry Salsa.

You, too, can increase the zing of any dish that calls for fresh lemon or orange juice without adding an extra ingredient to your shopping list, simply by repurposing the peel from either fruit. Here’s what to do:

If you own a sturdy cheese grater, you should have good luck using the smallest setting to peel the thick outer skin of the lemon or other citrus. Don’t press too hard against the grater, since you want to avoid getting the underlying white pith into your bowl of zest. (The pith can be a tad bitter.)

For those of you who absolutely love zesting, you may want to pick up a Microplane, which is a tool specifically engineered to remove the zest from lemons or oranges in beautiful long strands. You won’t have to worry about catching any of the zest. (Microplanes are also unbeatable for crushing ginger root or garlic.)

Last, if you have a vegetable peeler or paring knife, you can still get zesty! Use the knife to remove the outer lemon peel, trying not to pick up any of the white zest in the process. Then pick up your chef’s knife and finely mince the peel to make zest. Add to your chicken, cherry salsa, ricotta filling, or anything else that needs a zingy kick!

Here’s How: Cook Your Grains Like Pasta

HERE’S HOW is a series where we share the best useful tips from our cooking adventures. We’ll answer questions before you have them and illuminate food mysteries with a blend of science and legend.

“Bring a big pot of water to boil.”

If you’ve ever cooked pasta, you know that phrase. A stockpot full of water set over high heat means dinnertime is approaching, and fast.

We love spaghetti, linguine, and egg noodles with great fervor, but we love variety too. Enter: grains, from freekah to millet, which find a frequent place in our dinners.

Yet even when we give pasta a break, we often like to use the “pasta method” to cook rice and other grains. Just as we’d throw our penne into boiling water, we add grains to the pot, then drain them in a fine mesh strainer after they’re cooked. There’s no need to measure the water when you do it this way, and you don’t have to monitor the pot so closely. In other words, it’s harder to mess up.

We love this method because it’s a more streamlined process, and in the case of the Quinoa with Baby Squashes, Basil, and French Feta Cheese, makes sure the quinoa holds its shape and texture better than when it slowly simmers, absorbs a pre-measured amount of water. In fact, the pasta method is how quinoa is cooked in its native Peru.

Here’s the rundown: boil several quarts of water in a pot with a lid, as if you were making pasta. Add a few pinches of salt and the grains you want to cook. Start checking the grains for doneness about 2 minutes before the package directions say they’ll be done; when grains are cooked to your liking, drain them in a metal mesh strainer. (Don’t use plastic or the hot water will melt it.)

Now you’re ready to eat or use them in your final dish.

Got questions about any of the techniques in our recipes? Leave a comment or shoot us a tweet and we’ll answer your question in an upcoming post.

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